Report calls for science strategy

The government views science and engineering advice as ‘a peripheral policy concern’, according to a report by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) committee.


The government views science and engineering advice as ‘a peripheral policy concern’, according to a report by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) committee.


The ‘Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy’ report has called for far-reaching Whitehall reforms to ensure that independent scientific advice is given a key role in policy formation.


It recommends that the Government for Science (GO-Science) should have a permanent home in the cabinet in order to increase its influence across government departments.


The committee said that the shifting of GO-Science between three different departments over the past two years has reduced its status to that of a ‘political bargaining chip’ and stated its influence should be strengthened alongside independent scientific advisory bodies.


The MPs also called for increased clarity in allocating funding and developing an over-arching science strategy.


Phil Willis, heading the committee, said: ‘We ask that a tangible and ambitious strategy for UK science and engineering policy is developed.


‘The government has committed to placing science and engineering advice at the heart of policy formulation and now it is time to do so: scrutiny of policy must be strengthened and a clearer vision for the future must be developed.’


While the engineering community has welcomed the report, concerns remain over its recommendation to establish GO-Science within the cabinet.


Andrew Ramsay, chief executive of the Engineering Council UK (ECUK), said: ‘At the moment we have a very active and effective science lobby, which is happy to endorse engineering research as being an important component of science when it suits it and ignore the needs of engineering when it doesn’t.


‘Creating an office for science in cabinet could unhelpfully raise the profile of science above engineering and I don’t know that it would necessarily improve government thinking about science anymore than creating the Department of Energy and Climate Change.’


Martyn Thomas, fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering, added: ‘We believe very strongly that engineering is where science gets turned into innovation, wealth, jobs and improves quality of life.’


Thomas added that  the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is the government vehicle for driving that innovation.


The TSB model is one that many in the engineering community believe could provide tangible results through commercial success, adding value to a technology-driven economy.


In a statement responding to the report, the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB) argued that the progress of research through to commercial development is more important than the department controlling the funding.



‘All my experience indicates that if you equip people with the understanding of what research can do you’re more likely to produce products and services that change the world than if you do research in a laboratory in the back of a university and hope that somebody will discover it,’ said Ramsay. 


Ellie Zolfagharifard